Himes willing to accept Senate health bill as a first step

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said Thursday night he would vote for the Senate health reform bill, even though it lacks key provisions sought by him and other members of the House Democratic majority.

“I am willing to vote for the Senate bill, even though I’ve got real problems with it, if the alternative is to do nothing,” Himes said. “I think that we at all cost can’t end this congressional term without health care reform.”

Himes, a freshman congressman expecting a tough re-election fight in his Fairfield County district, made his remarks during a taping of WFSB, Channel 3’s “Face the State” for airing Sunday morning at 11.

“I’m not religious about what is in it,” he said of the health bill.

He conceded, however, to being pressured not to settle for the Senate version, which lacks a public option and changes in anti-trust laws that would force health insurers to offer more competitive pricing.

“Look we’ve got to get something done here so we take the first step to reforming the system, because we are going to take a second, a third and a fourth step over the next 10 and 15 years,” Himes said. “But we have to start the process now.”

Himes said he does not expect enough Democrats are willing to make the same compromise to pass the measure in the House.

“I think it would be tough. I don’t know that there are lot of guys like me,” he said.

Himes said the Senate version is a tough sell for many House Democrats.

“It doesn’t, unlike the House bill, lift the anti-trust exemption for health insurance companies,” he said. “What’s the logic of that, that they should be protected from colluding to raise prices on the American consumer?”

Himes unseated U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays in 2008, leaving New England without a Republican member of the House for the first time since the founding of the GOP. He was assisted by a huge turnout of urban Democrats who came to vote for Barack Obama.

Without Obama on the ballot in the mid-term elections this year, turnout is expected to be dramatically lower in the 4th District’s Democratic cities of Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk. Himes conceded he is vulnerable.

“Sure, I think probably every congressman these days is vulnerable,” he said. “There is a lot of anger at Washington, a lot of it very justified. And there is a lot of fear about the economy.”

“We are not counting on an Obama-like turnout in the cities in my district. That would be foolish,” he said.

Himes said the secret to his re-election will be good constituent services, listening carefully to the district and establishing himself as willing to be independent of his caucus at times, which sounds like the recipe Shays used for two decades.

“I have the most independent voting record of any congress person in New England right now,” Himes said.